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Hungary and Bulgaria hit with FIFA sanctions over racism incidents

updated 5:43 PM EST, Tue January 8, 2013
A group of Hungary fans were found by a FIFA investigation to have aired anti-Semitic chants during a match with Israel
A group of Hungary fans were found by a FIFA investigation to have aired anti-Semitic chants during a match with Israel
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hungary and Bulgaria to play next World Cup qualifiers behind close doors
  • FIFA impose sanctions after racist incidents involving their supporters
  • Hungary aired anti-Semitic chants during their friendly with Israel in August
  • Bulgaria punished for racist remarks directed at a Denmark player

(CNN) -- It is a strong punishment that could signal a change in FIFA's approach to tackling one of soccer's most ugly features -- racism.

Hungary and Bulgaria will play their next World Cup qualifying matches behind closed doors after soccer's world governing body sanctioned both countries for racist incidents involving their supporters.

FIFA said a group of Hungary fans had displayed offensive symbols and chanted anti-Semitic songs during a friendly with Israel in August while Denmark's Patrick Mtiliga was subject to racist abuse from Bulgaria fans during a match in October.

A spokesman from FIFA told CNN it is the first time the governing body has barred fans from attending a match due to discrimination issues.

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FIFA president Sepp Blatter's 2011 remarks on racism in football -- that on-pitch abuse can be solved with a handshake -- were just one of a series of controversial quotes to be attributed to the head of world soccer. FIFA president Sepp Blatter's 2011 remarks on racism in football -- that on-pitch abuse can be solved with a handshake -- were just one of a series of controversial quotes to be attributed to the head of world soccer.
A controversial leader
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U.S. star Jozy Altidore was subjected to racial abuse during AZ Alkmaar's cup win at Den Bosch in the Netherlands. The match was halted and the crowd were asked to stop the abusive chanting before the action resumed. U.S. star Jozy Altidore was subjected to racial abuse during AZ Alkmaar's cup win at Den Bosch in the Netherlands. The match was halted and the crowd were asked to stop the abusive chanting before the action resumed.
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The sanctions come less than a week after AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng left the field mid-match when he was the victim of racial abuse during a friendly with lower league side Pro Patria in Italy.

Pro Patria will also be forced to play a game behind closed doors as punishment for the incident, the Italian Football Federation announced on Monday.

Speaking at the Ballon D'or awards in Zurich on Monday, FIFA president Sepp Blatter described Boateng's actions as "courageous" but said leaving the pitch was not the long term answer.

Yet FIFA's move to impose a behind closed doors punishment on Hungary and Bulgaria for their first charges of this nature are significant according to Football Against Racism Europe (FARE) executive director Piara Powar.

FARE and two other bodies offered evidence to FIFA of wrongdoing in the relevant matches and Powar told CNN he welcomed the steps taken by them.

"For the first time we've got what looks like a relatively strong punishment from the top of football and that could reverberate in the way in which it gives a lead to governing bodies at a national or league level," he said.

"Don't forget football is a global game and this is in the end a global problem. We welcome the action they've taken, no doubt about it."

Powar said punishing teams in footballing terms was a much more effective way of tackling the problem of racism rather than imposing financial sanctions.

"This is the only tack to take," he added. "If you fine a national association, however small they are, fines of that ilk are shrugged off they have no impact. You have to resort to other measures in the armory."

Powar said the abuse aired by Hungary fans during their friendly with Israel was "really horrible anti-Semitic stuff" and that he hoped FIFA would continue in a similar fashion if and when future racism incidents occur.

Read: Fan group calls on team not to sign black players

A statement on FIFA's website said that after being informed of the abuse by FARE and two other groups an extensive investigation was launched in which the Hungarian Football Federation "acknowledged and regretted" the behavior of a group of their fans.

"The members of the FIFA Disciplinary Committee were unanimous in condemning an abhorrent episode of racism, anti-Semitism, and of political provocative and aggressive nature perpetrated by supporters of the Hungarian national team," FIFA said.

Bulgaria were punished after an incident during their World Cup qualifier with Denmark in October.

FIFA explained: "It was reported by both the referee and the Match Commissioner ...that Denmark's Patrick Mtiliga was subjected to racist abuse by a group of Bulgarian supporters each time he touched the ball after entering the field in the 54th minute.

"In the 73rd minute, the Match Commissioner spoke to the 4th official, and a public address warning was given to the home fans by the announcer. Although the level of abuse subsided, audible racist abuse still continued until the final whistle."

Hungary will now have no supporters present when they take on Malta on March 22 while Bulgaria will play in am empty stadium against Romania on the same day.

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